LUMBERTON — The extent of damage to crops and nurseries from flooding in Robeson County is still unknown and farmers looking for answers got together to meet with agriculture officials and Rep. Richard Hudson this week.
Agriculture, which includes poultry, swine, row crops, nurseries, and timber in Robeson County, brings in approximately $420 million a year to the local economy, according to Mac Malloy, Cooperative Extension agent for field crops in Robeson County. Malloy said it’s too soon to tell how big the losses will be to crops still in the field, but it is not a total loss. Peanut and sweet potato crops were likely hit the hardest.
“We need all the help we can get,” said Lee Grantham, owner of Nursery South on Kite Road, where Hudson and growers met on Thursday. The nursery suffered heavy damage from flooding and Grantham lost numerous plants in the flood.
“From farmers to nurserymen to the hospital,” Grantham said, “we need help.”
Hudson represents the 8th District, which used to include most of Robeson County but no longer does. The Republican from Concord encouraged farmers to talk with the Farm Service Agency, a branch of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, to report their losses. Before visiting nursery, Hudson, along with former Rep. Mike McIntyre, toured Lumberton’s water plant and the Robeson County Emergency Operations Center.
“It’s hard to imagine what you all just went through here,” Hudson said. “Just know that I’m here to help, longer than the end of the year. It’s going to be a couple of years recovery time. They drew a map and cut me out of Robeson County but my heart is in Robeson County.”
Hudson pledged to continue working to help the area even though he no longer represents the area.
“Don’t lose my phone number after January,” he said.
Malloy said a disaster like the recent flood was almost impossible to prepare for and even though farmers have risk management plans, they now find themselves in “uncharted territory.”
“There are a lot of family businesses struggling and trying to react,” Malloy said.
Hudson said Sen. Tom Tillis was sending a letter to federal agencies asking them to do everything possible as soon as possible to help flood victims.
“Certainly that’s the first step is making sure these federal agencies understand that it’s all hands on deck,” Hudson said. “We’re going to make sure Congress knows how bad the situation is and how much the need is. As needs arise, as quickly as you can make me aware of them, we’ll work on them.”
Giles Floyd, director of the Farm Services Agency, said FSA has applied for money to help clear trees from agricultural land and washouts. It is also asking for funding to help clear out ditches that have been clogged with runoff and debris. It is a cost-share program, he said.
Malloy said farmers will be able to better assess the damage when they are able get in to their fields to harvest peanuts and soybeans.
“Soybeans are still standing and they have a range of maturity. We’ve got some that need to come out of the field as soon as possible; we’ve got some that need another two weeks before they are ready,” Malloy said.
The concern is the effects of standing water on the crops, he said.
“For those plants that are still immature, that’s probably going to kill them,” Malloy said.
It can also affect seed size, which diminishes the quality of the crop, he said. Because some soybeans will be harvested later than they should have been, there will be “shatter” damage, he said.
“When their combine goes through to harvest, the seeds are going to fall onto the ground. The pods may even be opening up now and seeds falling down on the ground,” Malloy said. “As field conditions allow for the traffic of the equipment, farmers can get back in and harvest.”
In many places, it is still too muddy to get equipment in the fields, he said.